Monday, July 9, 2018

The Case for Assistive Technologies in the Classroom

What are Assistive Technologies?

Assistive Technology (AT) tools assist children or adults with physical or learning disabilities in functioning more effectively. These devices range from wheelchairs to a wide assortment of high-tech tools, including:

•    Hearing aids and amplification devices that enable hearing-impaired students to hear and participate in in the classroom
•    Text to Speech (TTS) software, glare-reduction screens, screen magnifiers, and Braille note-taking devices that enable visually impaired students to participate more fully
•    Voice-recognition software that turns the spoken word into type on a computer screen so students with mobility challenges can take part and
•    technologies that enable severely disabled students to control their computers simply by following letters and commands on the computer screen with their eyes (

Not all assistive technology tools are high-tech. AT tools include many simple adaptive tools, like highlighters and organizers. Many AT tools are high-tech, however, and because of advances in computer technology, tools are now available on a variety of platforms such as:

•    Desktop and laptop computers
•    Mobile devices (includes smartphones and tablets)
•    Chromebooks (and the Chrome browser used on any device)

Examples of high-tech AT tools include text-to-speech (TTS), Dictation (speech-to-text) and Word Prediction (

Physical Disabilities

Vision Impairments: Text to Speech Software and Graphic Organizers

As an assistive technology, text-to-speech (TTS) software is designed to help children who have difficulties reading standard print. Common print disabilities can include blindness, dyslexia or any type of visual impairment, learning disability or other physical condition that impedes the ability to read. Other students can benefit from TTS technology, however, such as children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or an intellectual disability.

Graphic organizers can be effective in helping students organize their thoughts during the writing process. As an assistive technology, graphic organizers can be a strong choice for students with dysgraphia or disorders of written expressions — particularly the conceptual aspects of writing (

Hearing Impairments: FM Systems and Sound Field Systems

 A variety of assistive listening systems or hearing assistive technology can help students who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those with other auditory and learning problems. Hearing assistive technology can be used to enhance the reach and effectiveness of hearing aids and cochlear implants, or for children who do not need those tools but still need help hearing. Assistive listening systems use a microphone, a type of transmission technology and a device for capturing and bringing the sound to the ear (

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), FM systems are the best choice for children with sensorineural hearing loss. FM systems work using radio broadcast technology. With a transmitter microphone and a receiver, the teacher and student can maintain a consistent sound level regardless of distance and background noise.

Sound-field systems are a strong choice for classrooms that need to assist listening for all children in the class. The ASHA notes that these systems benefit not only children that have hearing loss, but those that have other auditory and learning problems. Sound-field systems use a microphone that projects sound through mounted speakers around the classroom (

Learning Disabilities

Assistive technology tools for learning disabilities include any type of equipment or device that helps students to compensate for their learning disabilities. While they are unable to eliminate learning problems entirely, they can help students to capitalize on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses (
Students with learning disabilities can benefit from the following five assistive technologies:

Electronic Worksheets
These worksheets help students to line up words, equations and numbers on their assignments, and some worksheets even have text-to-speech or speech synthesizing technology.

Phonetic Spelling Software
For many children with learning disabilities, reading and writing can be a challenge. Phonetic spelling software is designed to automatically convert the student’s typing into the word that they intended to write.

Talking Calculators
Students who have dyscalculia can benefit greatly from a talking calculator. The gadget makes it easier to check assignments, read numbers and perform calculations.

Variable Speed Recorders
Many students struggle with understanding auditory lectures. For these students, a variable speed recorder is an ideal solution. This assistive tool is put into effect by essentially pressing the record button.

Videotaped Social Skills
Videotaped social interactions allow students who struggle with defining social norms, to learn important life skills and social behaviour. In addition to interpersonal skills, these videos can work for self-help, linguistic, academic and emotional problems as well (

Assistive Technologies in The Classroom: Is There a Down-Side?

Unfortunately, there are many myths about AT. These myths are often connected to the stigma of learning and attention issues. There is a misconception that using AT is “cheating” and some parents worry that their children may become too reliant on AT. One of the biggest myths about using AT is that it will prevent a child from learning academic skills. This has proven to be untrue. A point of comparison is: experts agree that listening to audiobooks does not hinder children from learning to read.

As with the integration of other technology tools in the classroom, teachers’ self-efficacy in assistive technologies is key, and teachers must be adequately trained in the use of these tools in order to maximize the benefits for students. While AT does have many benefits, good teaching and instruction is an essential component of this pedagogical framework.

Parents and teachers can utilize assistive technology tools to enhance students’ academic and personal growth, but technology alone is inadequate. To successfully use these tools, it is critical to develop a plan for their use and have regular check-ins to ensure the student is gaining the most value possible and not becoming overly reliant on these tools (

Assistive Technology in the Classroom | Helping Challenged Kids Get the Most from Learning. Retrieved from:

Assistive Technology for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues: What You Need to Know.

15 Assistive Technology Tools for Students with Disabilities. Retrieved from:

5 Assistive Technology Tools That Are Making a Difference. Neese, B. (2015). Retrieved from:

5 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom. Retrieved from:

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